7 Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
Are you sabotaging yourself? Here's how you can fulfill your commitments.
(This article originally appeared in 2016 and has been updated.)
It’s that time of year again. A new beginning, a clean slate. But how often do you actually make good on your New Year’s resolutions? If the answer is "not very," you'll want to read the seven ideas below that can help you follow through in 2020.
The start of a new year naturally creates incentive for making changes. Days that seem like transition points motivate people to take advantage of the “fresh-start effect,” research shows. Birthdays, the beginning of a semester, and the start of a new week all fall under this new transition time. Researchers at the Wharton School came to this conclusion after they discovered that visits to the university fitness center spiked during these turning points. Another study published in Psychological Science further backs this up. Participants found motivation from imagining a fresh start in the form of moving in to a new apartment. They were asked to imagine their new digs and also ranked their level of motivation to pursue their goals. Those who imagined that the move was their first one in nine years (versus an annual event) were more motivated to make progress on their goals.
This feeling of a new beginning appears to empower and make it easier to leave our past self and failures behind and embrace our new potential for success moving forward, researchers surmised. A new year represents a new chance to start over and try again.
However, “most people don’t keep their resolutions because they are more committed to making the resolution than following through,” says Gina Gomez, a certified life and business coach in Lake Forest, Calif. “In fact, only 8 percent of people who make resolutions actually achieve their goal. You must make the commitment and take action.”
Gomez and other experts offer the following tips for making this year the year you finally reach yours.
1. Get clear
You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you’re going, says Gomez. “If you want to lose weight, take that dream vacation, fall in love or watch more episodes of The Good Wife, get clear about what specifically you want and why you want it and identify at least three steps on how you’re going to get there.”
2. Take the first step
Once you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, begin turning that into reality. “If you’re stuck, take the first step to finding the resources to help you achieve that goal,” says Gomez. This may include hiring a coach, reading travel books or signing up on a dating site.
3. Follow through
It’s not enough just to plan and take the first step. Once you have your game plan, follow it. Think of your New Year's resolution the way you would a business plan, says Gomez. “It does no good to have one if you don’t use it.” Set manageable goals, include some rewards, find an accountability partner and keep track of your progress. “This enables you to stay motivated and get consistent results,” she adds.
4. Reign yourself in
Ultimately, the ability to follow through on a New Year’s resolution involves the ability to regulate our impulses, says Timothy J. Bono, assistant dean for assessment and analytics at Washington University in St. Louis. “Our impulse might be to eat a lot of junk food or waste time on social media instead of using it more productively. To override those impulses, we need willpower, or what psychologists call self-regulatory strength.”
Bono likens strengthening willpower to becoming stronger physically. “If we can get ourselves to exercise willpower in small, everyday behaviors — maybe we resist the temptation to get the candy bar when we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store — those are the opportunities that allow our self-regulatory strength to grow.” The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
5. Expand your reach
In midlife, it’s tempting to have all your New Year’s resolutions focused on dealing with home life and empty nest syndrome if your kids have left, says Kristen Carpenter, director of Women’s Behavior Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “A better approach is one that enhances multiple areas of your life. For example, resolving to live in the moment helps achieve both personal and career goals.”
A long list of resolutions makes it less likely you’ll be able to do all of them, so order them. “If you already feel as if you’re being spread too thin, you likely will not be able to keep multiple New Year’s resolutions,” says Carpenter. “To edit your list, first rank your resolutions in order of importance and then keep only the top few. This gives you a better chance of meeting your goals.”
7. Align yourself
Ask yourself if your resolutions align with your values, says Carpenter. “If you’re crafting resolutions that are not in line with your values [e.g., training for a triathlon that takes you away from your family for weeks at a time], reevaluate your list and replace the resolutions with ones that are more cohesive to your overall goals. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up to fail.”
Follow these expert tips to create your best year ever.